Lack of Free Choice Reveals the Cost of Having to Search for More Than One Object

Eduard Ort*, Johannes J. Fahrenfort, Christian N.L. Olivers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It is debated whether people can actively search for more than one object or whether this results in switch costs. Using a gaze-contingent eye-tracking paradigm, we revealed a crucial role for cognitive control in multiple-target search. We instructed participants to simultaneously search for two target objects presented among distractors. In one condition, both targets were available, which gave the observer free choice of what to search for and allowed for proactive control. In the other condition, only one of the two targets was available, so that the choice was imposed, and a reactive mechanism would be required. No switch costs emerged when target choice was free, but switch costs emerged reliably when targets were imposed. Bridging contradictory findings, the results are consistent with models of visual selection in which only one attentional template actively drives selection and in which the efficiency of switching targets depends on the type of cognitive control allowed for by the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1147
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme615423


    • attentional template
    • cognitive control
    • eye movements
    • open data
    • open materials
    • visual attention
    • visual search


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